By Shya Beth
Art is created to explore, document and describe time, emotion, connection and history. While there are artists who are painters or sculptors, there are also artists who are storytellers, first and foremost. That is decisively where photographer Kisa Kavass lands, with each photograph a visual sculpture of light and shadow. Kisa’s work echoes myth and legend, inviting the viewer on a journey through the unknown.
“My style is moody, my approach is enigmatic,” she explained. “With every piece, I weave a story that leaves you wanting more, bringing to life intricate narratives that leave you both mystified and enchanted.” Kisa’s expectation for her work is to blend photography and poetry to create art that speaks to the soul.
Born in Australia, Kisa and her family moved to the United States when she was 5 years old, as her father acquired a teaching position at the University of Alabama. As a child in a land far away from where she spent her early childhood, Kisa played in a world of imagination created by her mother for her and her sisters. Encouraged to explore, learn and be inspired, she came to realize that the moments in life that convey the rich human feelings we all experience are usually the least obvious. After moving around the country, Kisa and her family settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where Kisa attended Vanderbilt University.
Soon after graduating, Kisa entered the world of advertising as an assistant to the artist staff at a large advertising agency. “After a year of working as an assistant, I felt pulled to fashion design and left my job,” Kisa said. “I immersed myself in the world of fabrics, colors and patterns, and started to work with local designers, but it was short-lived. That same year, I got married and had my son. That reignited my interest in photography, as I wanted to take better pictures of my son and our pets.”
Realizing that photography resonated more than any other art form, she made the decision to invest in a professional camera, and friends and family began asking her for portraits. Her portrait photography business lasted for over 12 years until she switched to fine art photography. Kisa began showing her work in galleries, shooting black-and-white film and sometimes hand coloring the prints with oil colors. Her focus transitioned into equine portraiture, focusing on the beauty and emotion, as well as the intimate bond between humans and horses.
Horses hold a special place in Kisa’s heart as an animal lover, and it’s not surprising that wild mustangs have captured her soul—in return, she has captured them with her camera. Her numerous trips to explore the wild horses in the West became more than just a quest for good images; they became a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. But there is a darker side that Kisa wishes to reveal through her work: the shattering, terrifying and destructive roundups of wild horses that take place. Most of these are unnecessary, and the horses are torn from their family bands, the land they know and their freedom. Kisa advocates for the freedom of the mustangs to remain on the lands they call home, and supports several wild horse sanctuaries that help mustangs that have lost their freedom.
“Many people are amazed when they discover that there are still wild horses running on our lands,” Kisa said. “The wild horses are forever being threatened by roundups despite protections that have been in place since 1971. I hope that my images will inspire everyone to become more engaged in the plight of the herds and their families.”
As the years have passed, Kisa has visited lesser-known wild horse herds in Missouri and, recently, in Louisiana, each with their own stories to tell. Beyond photography, Kisa has created short documentaries shown in regional and national film festivals, and EQUUS Television has been a huge supporter of her films.
The Light in the Darkroom
Although Kisa has years of darkroom experience, she has embraced the digital darkroom while still keeping a hands-on approach with her unique mixed media pieces. She’s grateful that she began with film and worked in the darkroom, as it helped her understand the concepts of digital photography and printing, and helped her keep the creative process her own.
“The basics of photography are no different in digital than what was required to achieve a successful image on film,” she said. “Light is the most important, but when digital first appeared, my main issue with it was the lack of good papers to print on. I began making my own digital papers by coating watercolor paper with an emulsion that would allow the paper to pick up the ink. Since then, digital papers have evolved and offer a large variety of options to choose from. I continue with my mixed media process of transferring my images by hand to wood panels, to which I add oil paint and wax to create mixed media art pieces. I still enjoy printing on paper, and I have found some beautiful, creamy, warm papers that are perfect for my images.”
Kisa’s book, “The Horse Wins the Kingdom,” is an award-winning blend of poetry and equine photography. Her artwork can be found at Edition One on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while she continues to add new work and is currently looking for subjects for both human and horse fine art photography.
“I constantly strive to learn each day from the horses and the people I meet, the stories they bring with them and the constantly changing tide in the creative world today,” Kisa said. “Horses just make this world a more beautiful place to be. They lift us up when we are feeling low, and help us find our way when we are lost.”
For more information, visit kisakavassdesigns.com